There’s a New Chick-en Town

Next week, the nation’s largest chicken chain (by sales), Chick-Fil-A, will launch a new grilled chicken recipe that it spent seven years and more than $50 million dollars developing. The new recipe is designed to get customers to crave grilled chicken as much as their signature “Southern fried chicken sandwiches”, a tall order to be sure. Chick-Fil-A’s recipe for more healthy, tasty offerings have helped propel the chain past Yum! Brands (the parent company that owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) in total annual sales. The Atlanta-based Chick-Fil-A took in $5 billion last year to KFC’s $4.22 billion and did it with only 1/3 the number of locations. Enter Super Chix, an unassuming, singular restaurant which opened just this week in Arlington, Texas. Super Chix is (hopefully) Yum! Brands’ answer to the seemingly unstoppable, juicy juggernaut that is Chick-Fil-A.

Although Super Chix is, at least for the moment, a single test location deep in the heart of Texas, Yum! could quickly seed Super Chix resturants across the country should the concept prove successful. And just what is that concept? Although it’s tempting to brand Super Chix as clone of Chick-Fil-A, it actually seems more like a remix of several successful chains. Super Chix founders, three guys named Christophe, Nick and Jeff, say they offer simple food made with “ingredients everyone can pronounce,” made with no MSG, high-fructose corn syrup or phosphates. The chain offers hand-squeezed lemonade, hand-cut Idaho fries ala Five Guys, and three types of pickles for their sandwiches – Sriracha sweet & sour sauce and kosher. For my money though, one of the most notable lines of attack isn’t what they’re offering, so much as when they’re offering it:

With increased pressure from casual fast food chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread and especially Chick-Fil-A, Yum! knows they need to get crackin’ in order to stem sliding sales. Good, simple food is certainly the best way to turn things around but Super Chix would also give consumers an important choice in the morality department. Chick-Fil-A and its owner Dan Cathy, came under scrutiny in 2010 for his documented support of anti-gay, Christian organizations which sparked several grass-roots boycotts. It’s uncertain if those boycotts hurt Chick-Fil-A or not but the PR backlash was real and probably led to Cathy’s reversal of company policy in 2012. Furthermore, Cathy recently admitted he wants his business to “move past” the anti-gay controversy, leave politics to politicians and focus on expanding the chain’s offerings. Sounds great, but consumers like me have a long memory. If I had a place to patronize that gave me all the delicious chicken goodness of Chick-Fil-A without any of the “holier than thou” attitude, I for one would certainly take it.

For the time being you’ll have to visit Arlington if you want to try a Super Chix chicken sandwich, chicken tenders or their creamy frozen custards. I certainly won’t be making a pilgrimage to Texas any time soon, but I will be hoping (not praying) that the test market is successful enough to warrant future expansions. Besides, those adorable cows have hogged the lime light long enough.

Go Buy Monument Valley. Now.

Chances are you’ve probably already heard all about the stunning new game from developer ustwo – Monument Valley that was released today. If the game is new to you, then let’s just clear the air right now – go buy it on the app store for your iOS device. Now. This is one of those instances where a piece of software is so stunningly beautiful, and provides such an incredibly rich experience, you’re really missing something if you take a pass. Here are just some of the things you’ll see in this amazing casual puzzler:

There’s a great deal to love in Monument Valley. From it’s rich, varied color palettes that change from level to level, to the extremely clever, M.C. Escher-like design of its levels, to the gorgeous soundtrack and audio effects, Monument Valley delivers at every turn. From the moment you start to play, it’s obvious how much love and attention the folks at ustwo have put into their creation. They’ve managed to design a complete gaming experience and bring it to you via the App Store for a minimal price. Too often games these days are filled with in-app purchases that prey on instant gratification to keep players interested. Monument Valley eschews all that in favor of creating a compelling, finite and beautiful environment for you to get lost in for a few hours of your life. The last few levels in particular are wildly inventive and especially challenging.

If you’ve read the reviews, then you probably know that Monument Valley’s play time is short. It took me a total of about 3 hours (off and on) from start to finish to complete all of the levels, and for some, that length may be a deal breaker. If you feel that way I have news for you – many awesome things in life are short but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of your time or money. You’ll probably spend more on your next meal out than you would on Monument Valley but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy both while they last. The game creators have said they focused on making a concise title that can be completed in a short amount of time on purpose. While this may be true, it doesn’t really matter to me because I know if the game is a success (which I certainly hope it is) then we’ll probably be seeing a great deal more of the mystical world of Monument Valley. Show your support of their efforts to bring you something wonderful and head over to the App Store and buy it, gift it and help spread the word by leaving a review today.

They Wouldn’t Know Good TV If It Shambled Up & Bit Them


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you’ve not watched the season 4 finale yet, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

Last night I watched the season 4 finale of one of my favorite shows, AMC’s The Walking Dead and it did not disappoint. The show proved once again why I and other fans still enjoy tuning in week after week. The finale was a perfect blend of tense action, rich character development and satisfying resolutions with just enough un-answered questions to get us to return in October. Despite this, as I read some of the reviews of “A”, it’s apparent some critics feel The Walking Dead is about as exciting as one of its re-animated corpses.

The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen rated the finale a meh-erific “B+”, lamenting the crucial flashbacks that gave Rick’s extreme cruelness on the dark road that much more bite. These flashbacks work, if for nothing else but to remind us of a time when Rick and Herschel had hope for the future, something that we’re constantly reminded has to be fought for. I enjoyed seeing Herschel again and loved how the flashbacks acted as an important contrast for what the group experiences when they finally reach Terminus.

Meanwhile, over at TV.com, reviewer Tim Surette called the finale a “pretty crummy season-ender” that was anti-climatic and would have served better as the penultimate entry. Personally, I think Tim’s off his apocalyptic rocker. The finale HAD to end with the arrival at Terminus anything less would have been anti-climatic. This was the mistake Game of Thrones made last season by not making The Red Wedding the finale it deserved to be. Critics like Zack and Tim have missed the entire point of S4′s journey not to mention dramatic plot structure and it’s pissing me off.

Critics often take stabs at The Walking Dead when the show veers into character studies with “nothing happening” in the zombie department. The thing is however that in order for us to care about what happens to these characters, we need down time with them to learn where they came from and what drives them. Season 4′s mini-stories have been great at letting viewers get inside the heads of characters like Darryl, Carol, Tyreese and Michonne. The Walking Dead’s terrifying moments can’t possibly hold our attention unless we emotionally invest in Rick, Carl, Maggie and the others week after week. One of the ways we invest are through quiet scenes like the one in “A” between Rick and Darryl as they sit against the car. Rick finally tells Darryl that he is his “brother”, something the audience has felt for a long time but Rick’s never come out and said. In this moment, the audience is rewarded in spades because we all know Darryl is far more Rick’s brother than Shane ever was. It was a brilliant and satisfying emotional moment and I loved it.

Other highlights included the foreshadowing of the rabbit snare and the one at Terminus, Michonne and Carl’s “monster” exchange in the forest and Rick “hulking-out” on Joe’s gang, gutting the guy who was about to rape his son. Here we are reminded yet again just what lengths Rick is willing to go to to protect Carl and the others in his “family”. It was a visceral, heart-pounding scene worthy of the finale as was Rick’s parting line “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” When he exclaimed that, I practically jumped from the couch, yelling “F*ck YEAH!“.

One day, The Walking Dead will cease to be exciting. We’ll have had enough of the hopelessness, enough of the roaming hoards eating the characters we love. For some the show seems to have jumped the zombie shark long ago, but for fans like myself, there are lots of stories left to tell, more secrets to be revealed and tons of brains left to eat. As far as I’m concerned, the undead (and the critics) can bite me!

Ollie Flies Free(mium)

Today marks a new beginning for Twitterrific, the venerable third party Twitter client from the Iconfactory. Today we’re announcing the app is now free to download from it’s normal price of $2.99. We’ve added several in-app purchases to the app to help cover the cost of push notifications and tweet translation, but the bulk of the revenue to continue development will now come from Deck Network ads that will appear above the timeline. Twitterrific has been available in the App Store since day one and we’ve experimented with both paid and free revenue models. Why are we returning to the freemium model now? Simply put, we’re hoping that by making the app free to download and use, we’ll get Twitterrific into the hands of thousands more people and those additional users will help support development via the increased ad revenue far into the future. The best part is that thanks to new App Store receipt handling in iOS 7, existing paid users are grandfathered into the new model and don’t have to restore any purchases. The app, with all it’s features, just works.

There are lots of risks with moving to this type of revenue model, but version 4 of Twitterrific was by far our most successful and that version was supported by ad revenue from The Deck. No doubt levels of support will increase dramatically for us but that’s part of the trade-off of having successful, thriving software. I’m also personally curious to see if moving to the free model and increasing the app’s downloads by at least 1 or 2 orders of magnitude will improve Twitterrific’s search results in the App Store. Having the very first 3rd party Twitter app in the App Store returned after non-twitter clients in a search has never seemed right to me. If you’ve never tried Twitterrific in the past, there’s no reason left not to give it a go now and we also hope you’ll help us spread the word!

Fox’s Cosmos Isn’t About False ‘Balance’

degrassetysonquote_science_fullI really had to do a double-take when I read last week that the creationist group Answers in Genesis recently complained Fox’s prime-time science show, Cosmos, lacks scientific “balance”. The group criticized host Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creative team behind the show because it provides no alternatives to the theories of evolution or the Big Bang for like-minded fundamentalists like themselves. The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice. What makes it even better is that Cosmos would indeed cover the creationist viewpoint if there was any scientific substance to it what-so-ever, but there isn’t.

Creationism is not science, it’s religion pure and simple. There is nothing that can be quantified, tested or proven when it comes to religion, by definition it’s a matter of faith. If science could be applied to the concept of an all-knowing intelligent designer, it certainly would have been, but it cannot and so a portion of religious believers cry foul. What I think truly irks them however is not simply being left out, but being excluded from such a genuine media event as Cosmos. Such science series air pretty much weekly on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel and others but we hardly hear so much of a peep from the hard right as we have now. The fact the reboot of Sagan’s science series airs on a major network such as Fox, and in prime-time to such critical and popular success is the straw that broke the creationist’s camel’s back.

As far as I’m concerned Danny Faulkner and his creationists group have as much right to complain about not being given air time on Cosmos as flat-earthers have on the NASA channel. Evolution is a proven scientific theory. It happened and is still happening today. It has withstood decades of rigorous tests and is the fundamental foundation of all biology on earth. I’m personally tired of the pressure put upon the media by conservatives to give false balance to any and all issues in today’s society. 2 + 2 isn’t 5, men really did set foot on the moon and the earth isn’t a mere 6,000 years old. If you cannot understand those simple scientific facts, change the channel, Cosmos isn’t your cup of scientific tea.

UPDATE: The creationists are back after last night’s episode dealing with Edmond Halley and the origins of comets. Yes, they apparently even have an issue with the science behind comets. All kinds of problems arise when your belief system centers around young earth creationism. Anyway, head on over to Mother Jones to read more about it.

Stop Procrastinating: A Step by Step Guide

Like many people, I have a habit of procrastinating. I sometimes tend to put off completing tasks until the guilt simply becomes too much to bare and I get off my butt and get moving. Judging from the immense popularity of productivity apps that specialize in reminding you to get your stuff done, I think it’s safe to say I’m in good and numerous company.

Procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if it helps you to sort through your emotions or gather a particular plan of attack before barreling ahead. Putting off writing an email you’d have regretted if you had sent it off in the heat of the moment is a good thing, not bad. But more often than not, procrastination can freeze us from action for extended periods of time and even interfere with important work. Personally, I have a bad tendency to stall when starting a new, large intimidating project at work. I find it can be extremely difficult to get motivated especially when the work involves creation of something from scratch. If you’ve ever written anything and put off starting because you were intimidated by the “blank page” before you, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The good news is over the years I’ve come up with a small but effective method to help get myself started on projects faster and it is simply this: take baby steps. Part of the problem with starting on a task is that often it can seem insurmountable and so why bother even trying? The trick is to pick one small part of the task and start there, slowly chipping away, piece by piece on what has to be done until there is nothing left to do. I’m reminded of the Winter Warlock from Rankin & Bass’ classic TV special Santa Claus is Coming to Town. In the story, the evil wizard wants to change his outlook on life from bad to good, but he doesn’t know how to start. The young Kris Kringle sings to him to “put one foot in front of the other and soon you are walkin’ across the floor!” It sounds completely hokey and cheesy, but I swear it’s the truth!

Say you’ve got a pile of dirty dishes starting at you in the sink. You don’t wanna wash them because doing so is going to be time consuming and a complete mess. When something like this comes up for me I think to myself, “Okay, I’ll just wash the silverware for now.” So I’ll start cleaning maybe just the forks first and then the spoons and so on. That naturally leads to glasses and then to plates which leads to pots and pans and then before I know it I’m done. The technique can be applied to just about anything. Have a report or blog post to write? Don’t try and write the whole thing, start by drafting an outline and go from there. Need to clean the entire house? Break it down and start with just one room. Over time, things will be nice and shiny. Bags and bags of laundry to do? Start with just the whites. Starting a massive new project at work? Don’t despair, figure out what the first step is and once that is done, move onto the next and then the next.

By breaking big tasks down into a bunch of smaller, less time consuming ones, you trick yourself into lowering the barrier to entry. Like most people, I find that I’m fine once I get going on a project, it’s just the getting started part that is really difficult. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, baby steps are a great way to jump that first hurdle and get moving. Give it a try and I bet before you know it you’ll be walking out the door!

My Anti-Anti-Vaccination Post That Wasn’t

I had been writing a post about the growing anti-vaccination movement in my head for the past few days. I was figuring out how to structure my argument about why parents who decide not to vaccinate their kids against preventable diseases like measles, mumps, polio and whooping cough are endangering not just their own kids, but our society as a whole. Then I got into an online argument with the husband of a family friend on the topic and I’ve decided to take a pass. Not because he convinced me that not-immunizing his kids was the right choice, scientifically, no.

I’m not going to bother because it’s obvious there’s really no point. Anti-vax parents are just as dead-set in their belief system as flat earthers or climate deniers. They tend to ignore the bulk of the science as well as the overwhelming good vaccines have done that say immunizations are not only safe, but save thousands upon thousands of lives each year. At the same time, they are motivated in their deep-seated belief by the well being of their child, which is the first tenant of any good parent, and so I cannot fault them for that. But trying to convince them, in any way, that their decision not to protect their children against potentially deadly diseases was the wrong one will fail each and every time. This is a conclusion that the CDC also recently reached themselves which spells trouble for any hope of stopping the very recent rise of preventable diseases in the United States.

The more I think about it, the only way I see to slow the growing anti-vacination movement is to discover the true cause (and eventually the cure) for autism. The ever-increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism in this country is the catalyst that fuels these parents and rightly so. Autism is a scary neurological condition that places heavy burdens on both the afflicted and their families. Until the true causation for the condition is known, vaccines will continue to be blamed, and more and more outbreaks of preventable diseases will occur. We can (and should) pass laws that mandate vaccinations but even those won’t completely work because there will always be parents who will willingly break such a law to “safeguard” their child. Unfortunately, the cause(s) of autism may never be found and that, more than anything else, is what scares me most.

The Rise of Mobile Games

The rise of mobile gaming is of interest to many people, both technology lovers and historians. In the last 20 years mobile gaming has really taken off, especially gaming on tablets. Whether it be Angry Birds or poker, the majority of us have played on a mobile device. This info-graphic from www.jackpotcity.co.uk details the rise in mobile gaming in geeky fashion. It’s impossible to say for certain what the future of mobile gaming holds, but from the looks of it, it’s going to be exciting. Click the image to see the entire info graphic.

The Worf of Starfleet

I love this fan trailer for The Worf of Starfleet for a couple reasons. First, it’s just well made. It makes Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation look totally bad-ass. Second, it highlights how badly Next Generation wants to be shown in widescreen. Seeing the TV show formatted like this makes it 1000x more epic. It’s a shame the new blu ray discs of Next Generation are still formatted 4:3 for the small screen, but that’s not their fault. Next generation really was before its time. In the meantime, you can never have enough honor. Enjoy!

(hat tip @davidcaolo for the link)

The Cosmic Voyage Begins

I first wrote about the upcoming reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series, Cosmos, back in July of 2013. To say I’ve been waiting patiently is an understatement. The new series is set to air this Sunday night, March 9th at 9pm and is hosted by noted astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The trailers we’ve seen over the last few months look impressive and both Fox and the show’s producers have been in full PR mode on Twitter and social media promoting the series premiere.

When the series first aired back in 1980 I was enthralled by its scope and soaked up every bit of spacey goodness in the 13 part series. Like the original, the new Cosmos series promises to take us both to the far reaches of the universe as well as examine the human condition right here on Earth. We’ll examine how life on our planet started, where we’re headed and beyond. As I’ve learned about this new series I’ve gained a new respect for producer, Seth McFarlane who was also a huge fan of the original series and wanted to help bring its message of discovery to a whole new generation. The fact that he and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, were able to convince Fox to broadcast Cosmos during prime time is nothing less than a minor miracle. I sincerely hope fans everywhere tune and and prove to Fox their faith in an educational series in the meat of their line-up was not misplaced.

Tyson and McFarlane have said that the series contains a bounty of new information about our universe so this won’t simply be a re-telling of Carl’s original journey. The series will draw inspiration from his teachings but the state of human knowledge has advanced considerably in the last 30 years so there should be plenty of new ground to explore. I also hope that the show’s creators take their time and explain complex concepts in ways that average people can understand. One of the best parts of the original Cosmos were segments when Sagan would simply sit and tell a historic story or explain the origins of complex theories like evolution or the formulation of the Drake Equation. I’m really hoping the new Cosmos isn’t edited like a music video, going from cut to cut trying to keep kids from losing interest in the face of all that science.

As a fan I’m glad our wait is finally over and the journey is about to begin. Tyson and company have some huge shoes to fill but something tells me they’ll do just fine. If you’re a fan of science, NASA, the human condition or you are looking for a great way to spend some time with your kids, tune into Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey this Sunday night on Fox. Then be sure to leave a comment here and let me know how you liked it.

UPDATE: You can now buy the soundtrack to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey by Alan Silvestri on iTunes. Cool!